Give Yourself Grace: Guidance For Returning To Work While Grieving

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May 8 2024, Published 8:10 a.m. ET

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Grief is a personal process that eventually touches all of us. The University of Texas at Austin reports that people grieve “the loss of a loved one, the loss of health, or the letting go of a long-held dream.” If you’ve taken some time off work, here are some pointers for returning to work while grieving.

1. Inform your manager.

As you transition back to work, it’s important to let your manager know that you’ve experienced a personal loss. You can choose how much to tell them. By keeping your manager in the loop, they can potentially accommodate you in the short term to help make your return more smooth.  

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2. Create a support system.

Culturally, there’s often a line between our personal and professional lives. Keeping that in mind will help you to express your grief in healthy ways outside of work with people who care about your well-being. Sharing with people at work can be tricky, and there can be professional repercussions. Use discretion about how you handle your emotions at work. 

By creating a support system, you can grow in your capacity to manage your grief. Consider seeing a grief counselor or therapist or joining a support group. Talking about your distress can help you process your feelings and give you a space to express your entire range of emotions.

3. Take breaks as needed.

Depending on the type of job that you have, consider that there will be times when you’ll be overwhelmed with sadness, anger, despair, and other heavy emotions. Where possible, take a break and step out to have a moment. During that time, take a short walk, consciously sip a hot or cold drink, create a voice note, or do anything that will help you allow the feelings to surface. Going to an isolated area will ensure you have some time to yourself. Discuss taking breaks in advance with your supervisor. If the need arises, your manager will already be looped in. 

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4. Have realistic expectations.

Going back to work doesn’t mean that you stop being a human and stop grieving. Grief will appear in various ways. By understanding this, you’ll be better able to manage the ups and downs you may experience. Grief is personal. Everyone mourns differently. Giving yourself the grace to ride the emotional waves will help you release your grief instead of bottling it up. The University of Colorado Boulder has a resource to help you assess appropriate expectations of grief.

When returning to work while grieving, caring for yourself and asking for help wherever possible is important. In the workplace, that could include conversing with management and stepping away when you get overwhelmed. Looking after yourself outside of work through hobbies, emotional support, or resting can help you cope in a healthy manner. How well you manage your sorrow will impact how you show up at work and your overall ability to heal. 

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By: Wanda Duncan

Wanda Duncan is a multipotentialite entrepreneur and travel and wellness writer. She’s slow traveled since 2010 through Europe, Southeast Asia, and parts of Africa and Central America. Find her work in Fodor’s Travel, HerAgenda, and WeTravel. Wanda is the founder of Black Women Travel and won the Women in Travel Summit 2023 Bessie Awards Social Impact Award and was nominated for the 2021 Trailblazer Award. Connect with Wanda through her website

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